Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Making a movie based on a true story is a double-edged sword. It raises the stakes, right? This actually happened, so it offers authenticity to the story you’re about to experience, but it also somewhat limits the experience.
After all, we’re sitting inside a dark box with strangers to get away from the real world. We want to see the extraordinary and while the real world is filled with amazing people, even those who accomplish amazing tasks may need a little help to make it on the big screen.
Such is the case for Mel Gibson’s “return” to the big screen. You know, the antisemitic dirt bag we’ve allowed back into Hollywood. Don’t worry, his World War II drama “Hacksaw Ridge” features its fair share of period appropriate racism directed towards the Japanese. From racial slurs to painting the Japanese as murderous, war-hungry animals, ole Mel’s still got it.
It also has all the visceral punch we’ve come to expect after his directorial turns in films like “Apocalypto.” Gibson spends what feels like two-thirds of “Hacksaw” on the battlefield with Andrew Garfield’s real life conscientious objector Desmond Doss witnessing the real life horrors of war.
I admit after “Saving Private Ryan” it seems tired because we’ve seen this before. Between “Ryan,” “Behind Enemy Lines,” “Band of Brothers” and soon “Dunkirk” I don’t think a film can survive on war exposition. Unfortunately “Hacksaw” doesn’t take us any deeper into Doss’ inner-conflict.
That may be because he didn’t have any. If so, fair enough — I don’t think Gibson is obligated to alter the core of a real person, but there needs to be something else, then. There’s no conflict other than what happens on the battlefield and even that feels like it’s going through the motions. What, you didn’t think he was going to make it? We’ve become so desensitized to the violence it’s hard to muster much of anything towards the tangled bodies thrown across the dirt.
Worse still is the film is broken into two disjointed parts instead of neat thirds. We meet Garfield as a young boy, very briefly, then as a young man before spending the majority of the movie in a the battle scene. And that’s all there is to it. The heart of this movie, Garfield’s performance, is fine but it never feels like he’s fighting anything because all the momentum is decidedly on his side.
That’s a problem many inspirational stories have. What inspiration can one gain from winning a game with a loaded deck? The real life story of Doss is no doubt a powerful one; but once Hollywood got its paws on it, “Hacksaw Ridge” lost all its luster.